Last October, I received a message from my local library. The franchise owner was shutting down the library due to pandemic slowdown, unable to sustain any longer. A pang of deep sadness came over me. Two years ago, I took membership of the library, a new age start-up from Bangalore with franchise branches in Metros. With an active website, one could choose the book, mark it in wish list and check for availability. Some of the not-so-easily available books available at other branches were called for by courier and one could get them issued without a long wait. I read some classics, not usually available in libraries, and quite expensive to buy. The quiet corner shop with three rows of books but enough variety to never run out of a good book to read, was an oasis of sorts in a busy shopping centre.
I do have a Kindle but the pleasure of running my finger through an eclectic collection of books in different categories and picking an unknown title sometimes, out of curiosity, or the surprise at finding a popular title available to rent, was unmatched.
It is sad that we do not have a culture of easily accessible public libraries around us. As a young child, we rented comics from small shops that sold other things and also stocked old comics, magazines and few books sometimes. A comic to rent for two days for 25 paise was a treat we all enjoyed in summer vacations. Most book sellers were large stationers that sold academic books, stationery and some popular titles. Exclusive bookshops in prominent markets were known throughout the town. In my hometown, Modern Book Depot run by a family for generations and thronged by tourists and locals for English titles is an old landmark. Its guard has changed from one generation to the other and often you find an old patron chatting with the owner about the time he used to visit the shop in his college days.
But a book lover’s eternal dilemma remains ‘how many books can you buy and store?’ Lugging cartons full of books, the heaviest of all packed boxes, with every transfer is not easy. Also, the greed to read as many books as one wants often prompts me to look for a library in every city and locality I have lived. In Dubai, I found a small library walking distance from my house, with a not-so-great collection, but good number of story books for children. Yet, I managed to read a few books, magazines, anything I could pick and make do with.
In Chennai there was a small corner library in Anna Nagar, the size of a small staircase with enough space to just stand and pick books stacked in the wall racks. I kept the membership alive till I lived there, though a hectic schedule never allowed me enough time to read much. The guilt of not returning the book on time and negotiating with the owner to waive off one or two day’s late charge, like asking a teacher for grace marks, was fun.
Bookshops are vanishing fast. One good bookstore at Delhi’s newly opened T3 terminal few years ago, used to stock amazing collection of classics along with bestsellers, abruptly vanished. Over the years I’ve seen many other standalone stores close down in every city.
I do have a Kindle but reading an e-book feels like working on a powerpoint presentation. Quite unlike the pleasure of holding a physical book, staring at the beautiful cover, reading the little the summary at the back, pleasure of slipping a grocery bill or railway ticket for a bookmark, writing the date of buying and place on the first page. With book pdfs the new trend in free reading, I wonder how the publishing industry and writers will sustain. I hope, sooner or later trends reverse like all other trends. people get bored of too much screen and come back to physical books. I sincerely hope, the neighbourhood library opens again and I can run my fingers through the shelf full of books in the quiet of a hot Chennai afternoon.
Image credit: lbb.in
This post is part of BlogChatter’s A2Z Blogging festival .https://www.theblogchatter.com/all of April where I’m reliving the beauty, simplicity and innocence of growing up in the 80s. You can read previous posts in the series here: